A battleship is a large armored warship with a main battery consisting of heavy caliber guns. Battleships are larger, better armed and armored than cruisers and destroyers. As the largest armed ships in a fleet, battleships were used to attain command of the sea and represented the apex of a nation’s naval power from about 1875 up until World War II. With the rise of air power, guided missiles, and guided bombs, large guns were no longer deemed necessary to establish naval superiority and as a result battleships faded from use.
Battleship design evolved to incorporate and adapt technological advances to maintain an edge. 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. The term came into formal use in the late 1880s to describe a type of ironclad warship, 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. The global arms race in battleship construction beginning in the late 19th century and exacerbated by Dreadnought was one of the causes of World War I, which saw a clash of large battle fleets at the Battle of Jutland. The Naval Treaties of the 1920s and 1930s limited the number of battleships but did not end the evolution of design. Both the Allies and the Axis Powers deployed battleships of old construction and new during World War II.