If armored airships, equivalent to ocean based ships like battleships in size/armor existed, how would combat be carried out?

Assume there is some kind of unobtanium that does away with the gas bag and allows for battleship proportions, the mechanics of which isn't relevant. Assume WW1 or WW2 technology outside this unobtanium.

I'm guessing big guns like their naval counterparts would be impractical due to various factors like recoil, increased maneuverability, and angling the turret unless they chose to come very close to each other like broadsides. Perhaps ramming or boarding action but I'm not sure they would be practical.

  • $\begingroup$ For science accuracy, the bigger the airship, the thicker the skin can be. A platted 1km long zepelin is realistic. $\endgroup$
    – Madlozoz
    Commented Feb 28, 2016 at 10:02
  • $\begingroup$ The square-cube law says that the volume of an object grows faster than its surface area. As the ship design gets bigger, you gain internal room for machinery, weapons, and people faster than you gain surface area to armor. So yes, the bigger the ship the thicker the armor can be. However, the bigger the ship, the bigger the target. $\endgroup$
    – Schwern
    Commented Feb 28, 2016 at 22:24
  • $\begingroup$ Can someone calculate how much of an effect the recoil of a battleship gun have on a flying ship? A battleship in the water has quite a bit of water to prevent it from being effected but would it be knocked into rotating or something if it was in the air? $\endgroup$
    – Ryan P
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 7:24
  • $\begingroup$ @RyanP Lacking a keel, any gun which is not firing along the centerline (ie. directly front or directly back) would impart a spin. A single turret, mounted at the center of mass, could fire in any direction without causing a spin, though the recoil of firing sideways would still be a problem. This greatly limits your options for mounting guns as was learned by the Russians with their circular Novgorod. $\endgroup$
    – Schwern
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 19:13

6 Answers 6


Honestly, there isn’t really enough information in the question about how they’re kept aloft to really distinctly answer without making assumptions.

So, as such, I’m going to make a few for the first answer. Namely the unobtainum engine doesn’t scale down well enough to work in conventional aircraft (i.e. say, weight limit 100 t or so, I dunno.) .That it doubles as a propulsion source to give your airships comparable sea ship velocities at seaish level. Since it doesn’t scale down well, and can double as a propulsion source, I sort of assume that it produces its lift as a discrete force where it is, as opposed to a lift field or something.

I will probably edit the response if you give a bit more info about precise mechanics/limits/to clean up the answer. Anyway...

If we work under these assumptions (which give you functionally WWII naval ships in the sky), you end with a pretty scary military unit that still has some glaring vulnerabilities.

Short Version

You're looking at more survivable ships of simmilar size mounting a more spread out array of light guns (4-8 inch, depending on size), and depending on the class, the top deck will likely mount some medium and capital armaments for long range ground shelling and heavy airship brawls. Overall, there's a focus on smaller more rapidly firing armaments that can more reliably score hits on other airships and keep conventional aircraft at bay.

Because long range combat involves elevating your guns upwards anyway, the heavy armament pretty much stays on top of the ship.

Aircraft have a lot more trouble on the offence, since they're functionally lose the altitude advantage they have against surface ships, and near misses no longer cause nearly as much damage, if any at all. It's more than likely that specific anti-airship attacker craft are developed.

Transporting a lot of cargo across treacherous terrain becomes a lot easier, and lack of air support of any variety becomes a huge threat to ground forces, especially in open terrain.

They're good, extremely useful assets, but by no means infallible, and aircraft are by far still a huge threat to them. But a lot depends on how high exactly they can fly.


Now see, in normal ship operations, most of your gear doesn’t work very well underwater, this is why when you sink a ship, it functionally becomes a non-threat. Cannons don’t function well under water at all, and the electronics and engines don’t fare much better, and it doesn’t help that the crew need air to not die. Generally, sinking a ship means poking enough holes in it that enough of the air inside the ship gets replaced with water, the ship becomes negatively buoyant, and it goes into the largely unstoppable process of sinking.

If we have our airships however, the only real way to disable them completely is to nail enough of the structure that it falls apart, or, destroy enough of your unobtainum so it literally drops out of the sky/flips/capsizes. Both of these are more likely to occur at much more dire circumstances then what would sink an ordinary ship, since well, you’ve hopefully armoured your ship enough that doing significant damage to the structure requires a lot of damage across the ship (meaning really, magazine explosions would be the most potent damage occurrences). The other method, damaging the reactors (because really, you’d need more than one) is difficult because they’re most likely the best protected component of the ship, likely mounted as far from the extremities of the ship as reasonably possible.

Of course, just with real ships, disabling it doesn’t always mean completely destroying it. A ship that’s set on fire in the air is likely more vulnerable than a normal seagoing ship, as while you could potentially operate at high altitudes where keeping a fire going is difficult, there’s the fact that such a fire would be higher risk for the crew and significantly more difficult to put out, leading to a higher risk of ammo cook-off.

The end result is that your ships are arguably more durable than a conventional seafaring counterpart, which is saying a lot considering just how much punishment some WWII ships took. However, while this is somewhat a defensive benefit over seagoing ships, there’s a much, much more prominent one at play here, and that is the agility.


See, with naval ships, you functionally only really have two dimensions of movement, and even then, you’re limited to sort of forwards backwards + turning. Even if you assume the minimum increase in movement, i.e. altitude gain cannot be done independent of forward propulsion (which is kind of unlikely), you’re still dealing with another dimension in which they can perform evasive actions.

Functionally, this squares the area in which they can be in any given future reference point, which makes them significantly harder to target than a comparable seafaring opponent. Not only that but high explosive near misses designed to work on surface impact are no longer a thing, meaning even more precision is required to land even glancing hits. Without the water to carry the shockwave, combined with the fact that shrapnel isn’t exactly the most effective weapon for dealing with thick steel plate means that there is a huge jump in durability from this simple adding of a dimension.

It once again depends on how the unobtanium works, but the altitude limits could have a very strong effect on the interplay between these ships and other military assets. But I’ll cover that after I cover their armament distribution.


One of the primary disadvantages about dealing with the third dimension is that now you functionally have to look in a new direction, downwards, especially if you want to use your airships to project force to the ground. However, cannons firing at longer ranges still need to tilt upwards in order to maximise their range, something that would be severely limited by mounting them on the underside of the ship. Of course, when functioning at long range, mounting your cannons on the top is ideal. It gives you enough elevation to fire at longer ranges, and well, the shell’s arcs are parabolic, so as long as what you’re firing at isn’t too close, you can just shoot from the top deck anyway and have it fall back down to your target. This fact, combined with the prospect of WWII technology (Heavily armoured moving casemates with full rotation on the bottom of the ship would more than likely not have enough structural integrity to not fall out) means that weaponry mounted on the underside would most likely be smaller dual purpose armaments for precision bombing or dedicated AA weapons designed to suppress enemy aircraft climbing to engage.

Similarly, such armaments would likely be installed on the sides (front, rear, and port/starboard, depending on the dimensions) of the airship as well, to allow for engagement of other airships at closer, lower elevations. Indeed, even on the top of the deck, it would be more likely that there would be a higher number of smaller calibre guns with higher rate of fire as opposed to the generally larger battery arrangement found on surface battleships, as a product of both the increased weight from the secondary armaments on the side and bottom, and the fact that air engagements at longer ranges would be significantly less practical, due to the higher degree of movement capable. Hence, there would be less of a precedence towards all big gun battleships, and instead a likely heavier focus on heavy cruisers or somewhat smaller ships.

Despite this, big gun battleships would still have a prominent place, as their increased range of fire would still offer an advantage in engagements at longer ranges, and the increased shell payload would still play a role in surface bombardment and the occasional lucky hit on a ship. This is doubly so, as a battleship with long range artillery guns at high altitude could potentially shell a city or other large target with complete immunity any form of ground based counter attack. Only aircraft or airships would pose a threat at all.

Unlike WW II, a big difference would be in the lack of submarines and their torpedoes (and well really torpedoes in general). Since you’re now in the air and we assume that the unobtainium wouldn’t feasibly work on a small object, not to mention that WWII era torpedoes don’t have seeking guidance (rather, they could turn to face a direction and that’s it), combined with the fact that there are now three dimensions of movement means that even if they did work, they’d be functionally useless. Honestly, I have no idea how they managed to actually score so many hits in WW2 with them from ships (well I sort of do, 2 dimensions and one direction of travel means you can shoot a whole bunch along the path of where the enemy is going, and hope they don’t notice/can’t evade in time). Either way, they’d either not exist, or be worthless for hitting anything.

Most of the other ship classes would probably exist however. Carriers would be obvious, and the entire gun toting-warship line would also exist, considering that you don’t always want the biggest gun, but sometimes you want to bring a bigger gun. Speaking of carriers, the interaction between these an aircraft would most likely end up similar, but significantly less advantageous towards the aircraft, for a few reasons.


See, the problem with the vast majority of WWII aircraft is that most of them can only really deal significant damage to such a warship via the use of bombs or rockets (for smaller ships or more vulnerable subsystems on larger ones). And during WW2, neither were exactly the most accurate of weapons.

And the star of sinking ships in WW2, the torpedo, is pretty much absent for much of the early war, assuming the later inventions (glide/radar guided bombs) are invented later in the war. Indeed, this is probably the biggest factor that lowers the number of airship sinking occurrences until more advanced weapons tech picks up.

With the higher evasiveness of airships, you’re looking extremely low hit rates on bombs, especially now that glancing hits have a lot harder time causing damage. And rockets for a good degree of accuracy require doing the same sort of suicide run that a torpedo bomber needed to perform, namely, flying directly at the target to ensure the airflow over the rockets is stable and their accuracy is at its maximum. And unlike torpedoes, where you only need to match two dimensions of movement, rockets arc on a trajectory, and with the airships, would need to account for it's additional directional movement.

The biggest difference however, is the altitude that the aircraft have to tackle them at. See, a big aspect of aircraft performance is the operational altitude. Many of the attacker aircraft that were used to perform high precision airstrikes worked well primarily only at lower altitudes where their high lift co-efficient made up for the fact that they were carrying potentially more than a ton of ordnance.

This effect becomes significantly more prominent the higher our airships can effectively fly, since the higher they can safely go, the more of the agility they can functionally rob from the attacker aircraft, making them easier to intercept or shoot down, especially given that they would need an altitude advantage over the ship in order to effectively bomb it using freefall ordinance. Once we start getting real high up (about 10 km up), it starts becoming more of only a few aircraft can functionally reach your airships in the first place.

Cloud cover would also play a significant role in attacking airships, as the double blind scenario it causes can effectively prevent any attack on the ship while it is enshrouded, but at best it can only burn the opposing side’s fuel reserves as they wait for the cloud to disperse or the ship to move out of it, and at worst, results in a aircraft crashing into the ship while both are moving through the cloud.

Regardless, despite the sum of effects, aircraft would still function as an effective fighting force against airships, contributing as one of the larger killers still, if not the largest. This would likely be the result of divergent development of weapons technology.


Given their (I assume) prolonged presence in the setting, even at a WW2 tech level, there would be divergences in terms of weapons development, especially in relation to aircraft. Development of rocketry based payloads would likely see more aggressive development, along with smaller more stable glide bombs for hitting airships (functionally replacing the surface based torpedo payload option with either large rockets or glide bombs).

Not only this, but given the significant risk increase in fires on board airships, there would be a higher focus on development of dispersion weapons designed to set alight the airships with a smaller or lighter load than conventional high explosive payloads. The use of clustering or area dispersal weapons in particular would’ve likely seen more significant development, allowing a craft on a quick attack run to still potentially cause some damage to more vulnerable or exposed systems on an airship.

Not only that, but the prominence of cannon mounting aircraft such as the B-25-G, Ju 88p-1, Mosquito FB Mk XVIII and Hs 129B-3 etc. would’ve likely been increased, as the relatively accurate higher calibre cannon fire would still have an effect on the larger more armoured airships, and they would’ve likely seen more advanced development in building more capable airframes to mount such airborne weapons.

In terms of surface based equipment, minimal forest cover could help significantly camouflage stationary weapons batteries of artillery calibre anti-airship guns, though such mountings would most likely be extremely vulnerable to counter assaults, especially from the ground. Functionally, they’d have the advantage of being significantly more spread out and better hidden, but lack the resistance to direct attacks an airship would have. They’d also probably be a lot cheaper to produce than an airship with comparable function. You’d still need to score direct hits though, which would limit their effectiveness, but airship to airship combat has the same caveats (bar the fact the airships can close the distance to increase both risk and success rate).

Of course, once the more advanced guided rocketry and jet engine technology started running around, they would seriously start feeling it, just like their original surface based equivalents. Their lower vulnerability to sinking would help keep them going for longer, but it would give everything a reasonable method of delivering a lot of punch with accuracy, at which point, the added armour isn’t nearly as helpful. Those ground based hidden batteries would only need one shot to potentially cripple any counter offensive, and their large profile makes detection easier and landing hits more so, while they can’t counter the much smaller, hidden opponents first.

As an asset

That being said, at a WW2 tech level, they would make extremely good assets. They would combine a Heavy bomber and warship in one nicely armoured package, and would have minimal limitations on where they could be used. But their transport capabilities would be equal to, if not outshine, their combat capabilities. The ability to land thousands of tons of war material at anywhere large enough, ignoring the intervening terrain, would change the face of wartime logistics.

Depending on their operational altitude, they could safely travel in fleet formations that would be vulnerable only to large aircraft formations or other opposing fleets of airships. Air combat would become a lot more significant and yet, intercepting airships would more a more costly move than intercepting warships. The lack of a “stealthy” attacker like a submarine would mean that commerce raiding could only really be done by opposing airships or, in the case of supply fleets not supported by escort carriers or air assets, opposing aircraft. The high launch altitude would give the defending air forces a significant edge in rapidly responding to enemy attacks.

Despite this though, even with their usage as mobile armoured artillery, conventional ground and air combat would most certainly remain a central aspect of battle. Aircraft would still retain their relatively extreme range compared to artillery weapons, even if airships could travel through the sky. And in the end, most of what wars are fought over is the ground territory, while you can project force, troops, firepower etc. with your airships, you can’t really head in and secure it without ground troops or vehicles, especially if you want to leave any of the infrastructure intact.

Identifying fleet numbers, their locations and whatnot would be a significant part of countering them. After all, each ship can carry potentially thousands of paratroopers alone, and have enough artillery to provide support until more reinforcements arrive. Visually spotting an airship at day might be easy, but once night falls, detecting them becomes much harder and radar detection becomes a more vital aspect.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "With the higher evasiveness of airships [compared to naval ships]". I believe this is wrong, they would be far, far less maneuverable. A 50,000 ton battleship at speed has tremendous momentum. To steer that momentum wanting to continue forward must be countered with rudder drag. Air has far less drag than water, thus an airship's rudder would have less ability to turn the ship. So while an air battleship might move faster than a naval one, it can't twist and turn to dodge making it an easy target. You are correct that operational altitude is the real game changer. $\endgroup$
    – Schwern
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 17:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Schwern Aye, that assumption is made primarily under the pretence that the unobtainum is really doing all the maneuvering work in the first place, though, evasion via altitude change would still function fine. Admittedly, giving the unobtanium the secondary function of allowing them to move is sort of vital, because I honestly don't think there's any viable way to get ~1200 - 50 000 tons moving through the air with WW2 tech, even if you're not dealing with the prospect of keeping it from falling (Especially at the heavier end,but Sky Destroyers or Light Cruisers might be possible). $\endgroup$
    – Metritos
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, a B-29 weighed 60 tons fully loaded. What the engines on a 1000 ton airship would look like are beyond me, not to mention overcoming the drag of such a large object or what would happen to it in a cross wind. The extra roles and special restrictions which have to be added to Unobtanium to make this feasible really speak to how unrealistic the idea is. It would be better to limit the idea to WWI when airships were viable, but then there's the limited understanding of aerodynamics, engines, gunnery, and communications to overcome. $\endgroup$
    – Schwern
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 22:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Admittedly, it's not entirely un-viable as a cargo operation system. The hindenburg was a 242 ton behemoth of a thing (It's about the same size as the iowa dimensions wise), yet got around at a decent pace of ~120 km/h with only 4 x 2000 horsepower engines. The big thing is that you'd have a definite upper mass limit to work with. Props can only push so much air before there's a significant diminishing return on force output. You can only add so many prop engines before it becomes pointless to add more, and if you using props, they're vulnerable to shrapnel/Smaller weapons disabling them. $\endgroup$
    – Metritos
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 23:16
  • $\begingroup$ I actually disagree about the heavy guns on the top deck. With WWII tech it would be next to impossible to aim at extreme long range like you would get here. You're already getting a significant range extension just by shooting directly horizontally due to the height of the craft above the surface. Ship to ship combat would be another matter, and perhaps you'll need some pointing up for that, but for ground bombardment I think your best bet is to have the guns face down for the best accuracy. $\endgroup$
    – bendl
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 15:33

If armored airships, equivalent to ocean based ships like battleships in size/armor existed, how would combat be carried out?

It would be a slaughter. No, I mean the flying battleships would be slaughtered. Big gun, heavily armored battleships disappeared from the sea for a reason, and those reasons would be even worse in the air. Just like their sea-going counterparts, they'd be chewed up by combat aircraft.

In short, prior to WWII the effectiveness of airplanes as weapon delivery systems reached a point where a flight of cheap, fast, long range aircraft could sink a battleship long before their guns ever came into range of the enemy. No amount of armor or defenses could prevent this... except more aircraft. This was made clear early in the war by events such as the Battle of Taranto, Pearl Harbor, and the sinking of Force Z.

The ineffectiveness of battleships against carriers was brought to its absurd conclusion in the Battle of Leyte Gulf when one of the largest surface combat fleets in the world including the Yamato, but lacking air cover, was repulsed by a bunch of small escort carriers and destroyers who were there for anti-submarine defense and ground support.

Battleships could only operate with sufficient air cover. They were reduced to shore bombardment and anti-aircraft defense, things which much cheaper ships could do. After WWII they were scraped.

Putting one in the air just makes this all far, far worse. A battleship on the surface of the ocean has the sea and curving horizon to hide them. Prior to radar the enemy had to literally fly over a battleship, or sight it by eye, to detect it. But a battleship sized airship would stick out like a sore thumb for hundreds of miles away and far outside the range of its weapons.

Air combat is designed to detect and intercept small aircraft traveling at high speed, possibly with stealth characteristics. Something as large and slow as a battleship would be picked up hundreds of miles out. Air defenses would concentrate long its projected line of advance. As it lumbered its way forward, surface-to-air missiles and intercept aircraft could attack it for hours. Much like a WWII bomber formation or battleship, the air battleship would need its own extensive air fleet to defend it.

An armored airship powered by Unobtanium does have one advantage: armor. But WWII anti-aircraft guns fired large shells at high velocity to reach high altitudes, perfect for penetrating armor. The famous German 88mm anti-tank gun was adapted from an AA gun. Designed to fire at smaller, faster bombers, they would easily hit a large, slow moving airship. The shell would lose energy the higher it flew, so how much armor it could penetrate depends on how high the battleship is flying, but you can't armor everything, and vulnerable, exposed equipment such as control surfaces, propulsion, and rangefinders could be wrecked as the battleship slowly lumbered by.

Traditional WWII air-to-air weapons would have a difficult time. The usual .50 cal and 20mm cannons of the day would be effective in strafing runs against exposed crew positions, as they were against naval ships, but would not penetrate the armored citadel. For that they would use air-to-ground ordinance such as rockets, heavy cannon, even bombs against the slow moving air battleship. Ground and naval attack aircraft such as the Il-2 Sturmovik and the TBF Avenger would work just as well against a slow airship as they did against ground and naval targets.

Worse, that same Unobtanium can be applied to the attacking aircraft. Small, fast, armored attack aircraft are a far more difficult problem. More on that below.

Damage control will be a problem.

A damaged sea-going battleship has three things to worry about: sinking, rolling over, and the worst of them all fire. Sinking is a matter of remaining less dense than water. This can be assured with simple technology such as water-tight compartments and pumps to maintain buoyancy. A top-heavy battleship is in danger of rolling over, but this can be dealt with by counter-flooding. Fire is very dangerous, but at least they have all that sea water to pump in. In an extreme case, a whole compartment can be flooded to prevent an ammunition explosion.

Air battleships don't have to be top-heavy, they don't have to put everything on top, so rolling over is not much of a danger. But it has to maintain its buoyancy. Instead of being less dense than water, a flying battleship has to be less dense than air. This makes it much more vulnerable to damage to whatever mechanism keeps it in the sky. Unlike a sea-going vessel, it can't just pump out the air. Finally, once it's set on fire it cannot pump in seawater or flood compartments. A flying battleship has to carry all its own firefighting supplies.

Guns on a battleship might be handy for bombardment, but then it would be in range of ground fire. AA batteries and artillery from miles around would fire at the huge target in the sky.

Ramming is laughably off the table, for the same reason WWII naval warships didn't do it. Even if the enemy commits the same mistake and builds their own air battleships, WWII weaponry is so devastating, so accurate, and so long ranged that the ships would destroy each other long before they reached boarding range.

The battleship would have to be protected against conventional air attack just like surface ships were, by as many AA guns as they could cram in. Larger, longer range guns would fire too slow to have any hope of hitting a fast maneuvering combat aircraft.

Normally aircraft don't have armor because lifting all that extra weight costs fuel, speed and maneuverability. But if your battleship can do it with Unobtanium, then so can the attacking aircraft, and far more efficiently. Now those very AA weapons which bounce harmlessly off your battleship armor also bounce harmlessly off the attacking aircraft. And damaging a fast moving, hard maneuvering armored combat aircraft is a much harder problem than dropping a bomb on your big, slow battleship.

In the end, it's a boondoggle. Such a weapon would be very expensive, very vulnerable, and very slow. It could only operate with local air superiority, even then it would be very vulnerable to ground fire. Every time it moved, the enemy would track it. If it moved toward the front, the enemy would know exactly where you're going to attack. All that firepower could only be in once place at a time. Once it's damaged or destroyed a large chunk of your firepower is gone. It would play out much like the death of the battleship Yamato at the end of WWII.

Capital ships are a colossal waste of resources. A single Iowa class battleship cost \$100 million in the 1940s, plus all the special, colossal infrastructure to build and maintain it. A B-29 bomber cost about \$600,000 and a P-51 Mustang about \$50,000. For the cost of one air battleship your enemy could build 150 top of the line heavy bombers or 2000 long range interceptors. These could also be augmented with Unobtanium increasing their buoyancy and thus allowing additional payload and armor.

  • $\begingroup$ I missed the WWII tech requirement and edited my answer to remove references to modern equipment. Doesn't matter, battleships were of questionable use in WWI and already when before WWII started. $\endgroup$
    – Schwern
    Commented Feb 28, 2016 at 23:07
  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't the large armored airship idea still work if it simply did maintain a large fleet of smaller crafts to defend it like an aircraft carrier and instead took on massive bombing and refueling roles instead? $\endgroup$
    – Ryan P
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 5:25
  • $\begingroup$ @RyanP An aircraft carrier would have to lift, store, and move all that extra weight, fuel and ammo reducing its ability to be a battleship or bomber. Carrier aircraft are generally outperformed by land aircraft, so they'd be inferior fighters. By mid-WWII land-based fighter aircraft had the range to keep up with bombers, so it's moot. As for using it as a bomber, you'd be better off spending all those resources building cheaper, more flexible conventional bombers and fighters. Finally, aerial refueling didn't exist in WWII. $\endgroup$
    – Schwern
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 5:31
  • $\begingroup$ @RyanP I added some specific costs, using an Iowa-class battleship as a stand in for the air battleship, to the answer. For the cost of your air battleship your enemy would have 150 heavy bombers or 2000 long-range interceptors. $\endgroup$
    – Schwern
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 5:39
  • $\begingroup$ I think A. these ships would move much faster than you would think, The iowa class battleship that you mentioned only goes at about 60Km/h, but that's through water, since air is orders of magnitude less dense, the ship would be much faster than their waterborne cousins. B. Heavy slow and giant bombers still exist in modern combat as do destroyers and aircraft carriers despite the existence of aircraft. An armored airship could complete all the same objectives and roles at a much higher velocity, and across land. $\endgroup$
    – Ryan P
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 7:15

Just reduce the recoil of the cannons until the mass of the ships is sufficient to negate it.

The first method is to absorb the recoil by making parts of the weapon move backwards. This works because the ship is presumably quite massive compared to the projectile, so the velocity imparted to ship is very small compared to the one of the projectile.

This does apply even to aircraft. A10 for example is notorious for having a really big gun, but apart from requiring proper design to avoid breaking the aircraft it doesn't really cause issues. A projectile pretty much has to be relatively light in comparison to an aircraft carrying thousands of rounds of ammunition and a cannon capable of firing them, after all.

The other way is to use the gas propelling the projectile as the counter.

In a recoilless rifle a part of the propellant is used to produce a back blast that counters the recoil. Such are used currently as man portable anti-vehicle weapons. A rocket launcher is of course an alternative to this.

In other weapons the muzzle blast is captured after leaving the muzzle and redirected backwards. This also makes the weapon less visible and noisy, since the gasses have more time to cool and slow down before being released.

This isn't usually done with cannon since it isn't generally that useful and is difficult with some types of ammunition, but you could have your airships mount "low visibility cannon", if you can think of a rationale for it to have value. It could make firing back more difficult during night operations.

  • $\begingroup$ If recoil is the problem, just use rocket. $\endgroup$
    – Madlozoz
    Commented Feb 28, 2016 at 10:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Madlozoz Yes, I actually mentioned rocket launchers. The problem is that this is IIRC roughly the time frame where rockets get accurate enough to be useful for shooting moving targets from range, so available rocket technology might simply not be good enough. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 28, 2016 at 11:57

It would probably be just like sea combat except you would have guns stationed at the bottom as well as the top, because in air combat you have to worry about attacks from enemy air craft coming beneath as well as above.


This has been a concept I have toyed with for a long time. The primary goal in this theoretical airship combat would be to bring the other aircraft down or kill all crew members aboard. Since these airships are using traditional zeppelin design, the gas bags would have to be torn open from the top. WWI zeppelins kept the pressure of the gas bags at about 84%, meaning they would not deflate. Another factor to take into account is the zeppelin's fairly fragile internal structure and the fact that it is airborne; recoil either has to be negligible or non existent. We need a recoilless weapon that strikes from above. Perhaps an enlarged version of the M2 4.2 inch mortar. This would recquire the airships to get closer to each other in order to engage in combat. Another option would be to kill all the crew members. I have no how this might be achieved but it might be something to think about. Something else to think about would be the airship's vulnerability to flak shells. Radar was around in WWII and hulking airships wouldn't be hard to spot. I know that this is all about airships fighting each other, but I think it would be more realistic (albeit way lamer) if planes were used to bring down and protect airships while the airships themselves were used to carry troops, bombs, supplies, etc. I would also like to propose the idea of giant flying fortresses that can't move. Like barrage blimps except they are dirigible and are bristling with AA weaponry and air held down by huge chains.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding Will! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 0:03
  • $\begingroup$ Hi Will. Just a quick suggestion; do you think you can break this up into paragraphs (2x new lines) so that it's easier to read? Thanks in Advance $\endgroup$
    – Tim B II
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 0:44

If your society has WW1 technology, then cannon would probably be used.

If it was WW2 tech, then aircraft carrying bombs would be used - much greater range and accuracy as opposed to mounted cannon. Far harder to hit a fast moving aircraft than a relatively slow moving battleship.


You must log in to answer this question.

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