The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor devastated the American battleship fleet. For the Japanese, the attack had given them an edge in the ensuing naval war that would erupt across the Pacific. Before the start of the war the US Navy had 20 battleships in its inventory, with five of those being Dreadnought-era warships. When the war erupted, the US had two modern fast battleships (USS North Carolina and USS Washington), but these warships could not compete with the massive Yamato-class battleship of the Imperial Japanese Navy. The Yamato-class ships were the heaviest and most powerfully armed battleships ever constructed. The ships were fitted with nine 18-inch naval guns, each capable of firing a 3,000 lb. shell over 26 miles. In comparison, the eight American battleships in construction (South Dakota-class and Iowa-class) were designed to carry nine 16-inch naval guns that could fire a 2,700 lb. shell at 23 miles. With the mindset of countering the massive Yamato-class battleships with one of their own, the US began the development of the Montana-class battleship.
Preliminary designs for the Montana-class battleships began before the US entry into World War II. The five ships originally ordered would have been the largest, best protected, and most heavily armed battleships ever constructed by the United States. At nearly 71,000 tons, 921 feet long and 121 feet wide, the USS Montana was almost equivalent in size to the IJN Yamato. It was designed to be fitted with 12 16-inch guns, three more than the Iowa-class battleship. Because of its large width though, the Montana-class battleships would have been unable to pass through the Panama Canal and its 110-foot-wide locks. The Montana-class battleships were slightly faster than their Japanese counterparts, with a max speed of 28 knots.
Despite the awesome firepower the Montana-class battleships brought to naval warfare, the success of aircraft carriers diminished the value of constructing new battleships. As a result of the naval victory in the Battle of Midway, the US Navy chose to cancel the Montana-class battleships in favor of aircraft carriers. With the transition away from battleships, the Iowa-class ships were the last battleships constructed and commissioned by the United States.
Although the USS Montana was never constructed, the spirit of the warship lives on. Montana is the only state that has never had a capital ship named after it. With the cancelation of the South Dakota-class USS Montana (BB-51) and the Montana-class battleships, the state has been overlooked by the US Navy, that is until Montana Senator Jon Tester pushed for the Navy to name one of its new Virginia-class submarines to be named after the state (the SSN-794). Senator Tester cited the patriotism of Montanan citizens to the United States, noting the state leads all others in providing service members to the armed forces per capita. Montana is also home to Senior Chief Petty Officer Robert O’Neill, a Butte native, who took part in the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and fired the fatal shot that killed the man behind the 9/11 attacks.
Look for more information regarding the IJN Yamato battleship in the future World at War issue #46 with the article “Yamato Unleashed: The Battle Off Samar 25 October 1944” and join the conversation on Facebook!