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BOOK REVIEWS: Two Books on U.S. Fast Battleships, Reviewed by Norman Polmar

U.S. Fast Battleships 1936-47: The North Carolina and South Dakota Classes

U.S. Fast Battleships 1938-1991: The Iowa Class

By Lawrence Burr, Osprey Publishing, Leeds (UK) (2010).


Reviewed by Norman Polmar

With hundreds of books having been written about battleships, the question must be asked: Can these two slim monographs make a contribution to the history of U.S. dreadnoughts?

The answer is “yes.”  These are very useful for the novice or for someone first becoming involved with the subject.  After very brief discussions of the design and construction of the ten fast battleships constructed by the U.S. Navy during World War II, these books provide short but useful comments on their weapons, radar, fire control, and aircraft (OS2U Kingfishers).  The subsequent discussion of their operations consumes more than one-half of each volume’s pages.

The books have several useful tables related to their specifications and combat operations.  One of the tables compares the Japanese super-battleship Yamato with the Iowa in a brief discussion of “what if” the two dreadnoughts had fought.  Author Burr believes that the Iowa would have inflicted major damage on her opponent, which would have then been sunk by U.S. destroyer-launched torpedoes.

I believe the author does err in several places, such as crediting the Soviet Navy with a blue-water global capability as early as 1964; the sinking of the British destroyer Sheffield in the Falklands in 1982 held no relationship to U.S. battleship vulnerability; and the Navy did determine the cause of the turret explosion aboard the Iowa in 1989.  (The author gives far too much coverage to the last event in so small a book.) And, there are a couple of “strange” statements in the book: “Wisconsin directed the launching of 213 Tomahawk missiles” against Iraq in 1991.  What is meant by “directed,” and what of the other Tomahawks launched by U.S. ships (a total of 276 were launched by surface ships and 12 by submarines)?

Each book has numerous illustrations.  While many photos-of necessity-are too small for the reader to observe details, this limitation is compensated for by several useful cutaway drawings.  The Iowa-class volume suffers from the absence of the unique, 1954 photos of all four ships of the class steaming together.

Still, the bottom line is that for their purpose as overview monographs, these are both worthwhile books.

Norman Polmar recently co-authored Project Azorian which was reviewed by Captain Jim Bryant in an earlier blog post on our site.

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  1. Is it fine to place a portion of this on my personal blog if I submit a reference point to this website?

    • admin

      Hi, can you let us know what it is in reference to? Thanks.

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