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Why ships are more than just steel and lists of statistics

September 26, 2016

Matthew Wright

There’s a vigorous naval enthusiast community out there. And it’s always intrigued me how often their discussions devolve to bitterly personalised argument, often infused with a kind of nationalist machismo in which paper statistics become weapons for invalidating the personal worth of the other party.

HMS Prince of Wales arriving in Singapore, 2 December 1941. She was less than nine months in commission. (Public domain, HM Government pre-1957). HMS Prince of Wales arriving in Singapore, 2 December 1941. (Public domain).

Setting aside the point that this is basically dick-waving, using assertions about battleships as proxy – many factors go into the effectiveness of the ships over which these armchair contests are fought. Warships always had to compromise – balancing range, armour, armament (defensive and offensive), underwater defence, speed and habitability among other things. A battleship couldn’t excel in all, particularly during the inter-war ‘treaty’ period when ‘standard’ displacement was meant to be 35,000 tons. Some ships were balanced one way, others another, to meet requirements that differed between nations – meaning a direct…

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